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5/30/97 Missionary kid in Uganda regards life as ‘neat’

KAMPALA, Uganda (BP)–Thirteen-year-old Kristen Rice doesn’t stop off at McDonald’s for a cheeseburger and Coke on her way home from school. But she might raid a termite hill and take a few insects home to fry for a crunchy snack. Another day, it might be grasshoppers.
There are no American fast-food restaurants in this East African country where Kristen lives with her Southern Baptist missionary parents. In her circle of friends and family, she is known as an MK, a missionary kid.
Few teenagers in the United States would think of popping a termite or grasshopper into their mouths, but Kristen said they are quite tasty.
“You catch the termites, pull off the wings, put them in a frying pan, stir them around and eat them,” she said matter-of-factly.
She likes grasshoppers prepared much the same way. And she eats goat heart and other animal innards considered delicacies in Uganda, she said.
Kristen is a seventh-grader at Heritage International School, a private school in Kampala. “Grasshoppers that are four to five inches long swarm sometimes at school,” she said. “Our school is not closed up since we use the breeze for cooling.
“Termites are my favorite. They are really good. They are salty like a peanut, a little hard and crunchy. We catch them, put them in a bag and bring them home. I like them better than some of the little candies you get, but I can’t compare them to cheeseburgers.”
Kristen describes her life as neat. She was born and has spent most of her growing-up years in Uganda. Her first visit to the United States came when she was 3. She attended third grade in the United States and will do eighth grade there.
“I will do ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th grades at boarding school in Kenya,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it except for the homesickness part.”
She will return to the United States for college. She wants to become a missionary veterinarian.
In April, one of Kristen’s two cats, Callie, had two kittens under the teenager’s bed. Kristen spent lots of time under the bed. She comforted Callie, cleaned up after the kittens were born and put down a fresh towel for Callie and her babies.
She also had a pet snake given to her by another MK. The snake bit her seven times on her wrist and hand while it was wrapped around her arm. Kristen’s mother, Linda Rice, said she “died a thousand deaths while (Kristen) remained remarkably calm. About three inches of the vein on her wrist puffed and darkened, but that was it. That snake no longer is.”
Kristen finds Ugandans more open and ready to try things than people in the United States, she said.
“The people are very friendly. You can just start a conversation here, and I find I was unable to do that in the States. Everybody is walking here. There are not as many cars.”
Kristen has been able to travel widely.
“My favorite trip was to Egypt,” she said. “I like the tombs best in the Valley of the Kings. There were paintings on the walls. The size of the pyramids were really neat. Egypt is a great place to go.”
Kristen probably knows a child in every country in the world, said her mother as they spread out class pictures from schools Kristen has attended. On the backs of the pictures are listed the countries where the youngsters live.
Her friends come from school, from church and from her neighborhood.
“My closest Ugandan friends are now in Norway,” Kristen said. “Every Saturday and after church on Sunday, they would come up and play. They lived just down the hill and could walk over. They didn’t have a very big house. Her mom had a shop, and they lived in the room behind it.
“When we were younger, we would dress up a lot and play games like cowboys and Indians or house. When we got older, we played card games and sometimes tennis or basketball,” she said.
Kristen also sings in the church choir and swims.
After school, she and 13-year-old Michelle Pierce — a classmate, neighbor and fellow MK — go to aerobics with two of the teachers at Heritage. “We are the only white people there,” Kristen said. “They are all adults from our university. We pray every time before we start the aerobics class.”
Michelle’s family moved from Nashville, Tenn., to Uganda last summer. She misses her friends back home.
“There are so many more activities back in the States that I could do in my age group,” Michelle said. “I always wanted to be a singer. I sang on a few records with a kids’ vocal group. But there are a lot of chances to sing here in churches. I might join a choir and help teach them some songs.
“I was excited about moving here at first. But I wasn’t ready for the culture shock. There is so much poverty. Kristen has helped me get used to Africa and everything.”
Kristen and Michelle’s teacher is Eric Myers, a Southern Baptist missionary from Charlottesville, Va. He and his wife, Amber, came to Kampala last summer to teach at Heritage.
“It’s so rewarding seeing the students grow up a little and mature, not only in their actions, but in their faith,” Amber Myers said.
While Kristen and Michelle are learning about Korea in their social studies class, Michelle’s brother, Matt, 11, is working on an art project down the hall in the fifth-grade classroom. Michelle’s sister, Abbie, 4, is taking a nap in the preschool class.
American missionaries prefer private schools such as Heritage or home schooling for their children because Ugandan schools are crowded, there is a shortage of textbooks and students are taught by a memory method that doesn’t involve critical reasoning.
Sally Pepper, wife of missionary physician Larry Pepper, home schools their children, Adam, 10, Megan, 8, and Kelly, 7. They live in Mbarara, 200 miles from Kampala.
Sally, who has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and English from Adrian (Mich.) College and a master’s in public relations from Michigan State University in East Lansing, uses the curriculum followed by the Heritage School. It includes language arts, math, history and science.
“Teaching Kelly to read was pretty neat,” Sally said. “Last summer, I started working with her before school started. She has finished all the first-grade readers and is on those for second grade.” The Pepper children go to school in the family’s converted garage.
The school day, which runs about three and a half hours, began with the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance and a Bible story about David and Goliath. The children also spend time each day reading in their rooms.
Adam’s mom asked him to pray. His reply: “I prayed at breakfast.”
Megan volunteered. “Thank you for today,” she prayed. “I pray school will go well. Amen.”
Missionary kids also pitch in to help others. During a recent polio immunization drive in Kampala, Kristen and the three Pierce children helped. The local people were hesitant about taking their children to be immunized.
“We paraded like the Pied Piper through the most resistant community to bring out the people,” Kristen’s mom said. “The first house we went to, people were afraid. I know they were thinking, ‘What is this white person doing at my house?’
“At the third house, we got someone to agree to come. Kristen picked up a little girl and carried her down the road. That broke the ice. Everybody wanted polio vaccine.”
Linda Rice said 4-year-old Abbie Pierce “had a kid smaller than she by each hand, walking them down the road. Those four kids definitely knew they did a good thing that day.”

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  • Alberta Lindsey